Public Works by Colin Steele (F’3G)

by tuftsigl
Jul 18

I have read that the urge to create begins as a tickle and turns into a bonfire. In this first report on the project I am calling Public Works, let me try to describe the idea that has been tickling me for the past few years and the beacon I am hoping to light.

It might help to begin by describing how I came to Fletcher in the first place. Like many of my peers, I had studied and worked in Washington, D.C. and had reached what felt like that point in the very-early-middle of a career at which a master’s degree is the commonly accepted next step. I was confident that I had learned how to do school, I was increasingly confident that I knew how to work, and I was looking for new work—all of which, as far as I could tell, led me  to pursue a master’s degree.

Very well: Fletcher was the perfect opportunity to step back from D.C. for a couple of years, learn some new material, and meet a new batch of people with who I could reasonably expect to spend the next several decades of life and work.

My basic theory of change, then, was that a master’s degree would be a key with which I could open all sorts of interesting doors. But before long, I felt the tickle: I was confident I could fashion the key, but I was not sure I knew which door I was trying to open with it.

When a federal hiring freeze was followed by another government shutdown, the tickle became an itch. At the same time that I felt the need to specify my idea of what it might mean to work in public service, I began to feel it was imprudent to keep conflating public service exclusively with the U.S. government.

That itch turned into the urge to create when I finally admitted to myself that all of us, even those of us who do end up in government, are graduating into the connection economy—and, other than search engines and email, I had more or less ignored the internet.

Public Works, then, is my latest effort to create community, connections, and a conversation about what it might mean to serve the public interest today.

Specifically, I am building an online forum in which students and recent alumni can not only keep in touch and continue the kinds of discussions we enjoy with each other during school but focus on what opportunities exist to serve the public interest. While government is certainly still an option, I aim to create a more useful clearinghouse for opportunities beyond government—and to allow my peers to help each other identify and prepare for those roles.

In the next couple of weeks, I am looking forward to hosting some initial conversations and building out the community. It is time to start scratching the itch—and if you feel it, too, I would be delighted to have you along.